Farley’s Follies

James A. Farley was the Postmaster General during the 1930s, but that’s not the only thing he’s remembered for. In the stamp collecting world he’s known for his “Farley’s Follies.”

It’s worth mentioning that Farley himself was not a stamp collector, and so probably had no idea of the ruckus he was about to cause.

During his time as Postmaster General, Farley bought a number of imperforated and ungummed stamp sheets with his own money. He signed the margins of the sheets, as did President Roosevelt. The first sheet went to FDR himself, an avid stamp collector; another went to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, also a stamp collector; and the rest went to Farley’s family as well as friends of the Administration.

James A. Farley during National Air Mail Week in 1938, marking the 20th anniversary of the first scheduled airmail service.

James A. Farley during National Air Mail Week in 1938, marking the 20th anniversary of the first scheduled airmail service.

Unfortunately for Farley, some of these sheets found their way to the market as high-priced rarities.

Enraged stamp collectors protested, as did political opponents. They spoke accusations of corruption and lobbied Congress.3cNewburgh

To prevent the pot from boiling over, Farley ordered the twenty sheets of unfinished stamps he’d signed to be reprinted and available for stamp collectors to buy. These sheets were printed in 1935, earning the nickname “Farley’s Follies.” The sheets are, however, far from rare.

Many years ago, Farley himself donated fifteen of the original signed sheets to the Smithsonian Institution for viewing.

A slight mess-up for an otherwise brilliant businessman, Farley quickly saved his reputation and created another story for the stamp collecting world.

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